Innovation · Inspiration · Leadership · Life Lessons

Predictable crises

When someone we care about fails to admit they have a serious problem and fails to do the work to remedy it, are we shocked when they eventually experience the consequences of their addictive or dysfunctional behavior?

Are we surprised one little bit when a brand facing stiff competition and highly disruptive forces finds itself struggling to stay in business because it never bothered to get serious about innovation?

Is it at all astonishing that deficits mount or poverty persists or bridges collapse when politicians lack the courage to address the root causes and constantly kick the can down the road?

In The Sun Also Rises one of Hemingway’s characters famously answered the question of how he went bankrupt by saying: “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

If we are honest, many of us see the wall we’re going to crash into long before we feel the impact. But fear keeps us stuck in inaction and false hope.

Liars lie. Gravity always wins. And few problems unaddressed magically fix themselves.

The best time to start was likely years ago. The second best time is now.

yves klein

 

 

Innovation · Inspiration · Leadership

The price of waiting

It’s typically not difficult to calculate the cost of starting something, of moving ahead, of taking the plunge.

Perhaps it’s a new IT project or a marketing test. Possibly it’s a decision to try a pilot concept or invest in a promising technology. Or maybe we’re considering taking the next big step in a hopeful personal relationship.

When we have to ante up additional time, write that big check, invest more emotional commitment, the price tag often seems pretty obvious.

Yet what we get wrong (or dramatically underestimate) are the consequences of our hesitation. We lean on the desire for better data and convince ourselves we need more time to weigh or explore our options. We become a slave to the pull of our perfectionism. We tell ourselves the time is just not quite right to act.

Ultimately, what keeps us stuck, what causes us to not pull the trigger, is our fear of getting it wrong, of looking stupid, of being judged, of fully experiencing and feeling our vulnerability.

It’s not hard to see how waiting too long to innovate has been the death knell for many companies. Think Blockbuster, Netflix, RadioShack and (soon) Sears. They paid (or are paying) the ultimate price for waiting.

My guess is that with whatever organizations you’ve been involved in you can readily point to opportunities that were missed because moving ahead was deemed too risky, when just the opposite proved to be true.

And maybe we’ve let real love and connection allude us for similar reasons.

Indeed, sometimes the waiting IS the hardest part.

Alas, other times it’s all too easy.

And we realize how high the price is when it’s all too late.

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Innovation · Leadership · Life Lessons

Whataboutery

Lately it seems like some people are all about whataboutism.

As just one high profile example, when the President of the United States is challenged on wrongdoing in his administration, his immediate response is to bring up the Clintons. Mention “alleged” sexual predatory behavior on his part (or fellow Republicans) and the knee jerk reaction is to shift the attention to the misdeeds of members of the opposition party. And so on.

If there were a Nobel Prize for chutzpah there’s little doubt who’d win.

Of course, The Donald is hardly alone. The parade of statements that start with some variation of “yeah, but what about?” often appears unending. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I’ve engaged in some Ph.D. level deflection myself. You can definitely find at least one person who can give give you chapter and verse on my ninja-like avoidance skills.

It turns out it’s hard for many of us to own our stuff.

But, deep down, anyone with the emotional IQ a notch above a salamander knows that just because someone else might have engaged in similar bad behavior does not make our misdeeds okay. At all. Not one little bit.

While we may feel good about our self-righteous quest to point out the hypocrisy of others (thank you for your service!) what we are doing is merely taking the focus away from that for which we are ultimately responsible.

What about focusing on our own stuff for just a bit?

What about letting the Universe sort out the rest?

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Inspiration · Leadership · Life Lessons

The 3 things we cannot change

Despite our earnest wishes there are three important things we cannot change.

The past.

The truth.

Another person.

Sure, we can learn from our history.

Yes, we need to be careful to separate facts from our often distorted perceptions.

Of course, people can evolve. But never through the sheer force of our will.

Life only happens in the present moment.

Meaningful change comes from confronting and accepting reality, however unpleasant.

We are solely responsible for our thoughts and actions.

To get out of the mental prison we’ve built, we must first realize we are in it.

h/t Anne Lamott

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Inspiration · Leadership

Our initial descent

When we let a wildly inappropriate comment go because we don’t want to make waves or embarrass the person who made it.

When we take a comment too personally and shift into argumentative mode because it’s more important to be right than to stay present and connected.

When we stay stuck in habits that don’t serve us because we’re afraid to fail or look foolish.

When we take any kind of short-cut at the expense of quality.

When we put others down because we’re not feeling good about ourselves.

When we defend the status quo even though we know we’re headed for a fall.

Our initial descent into tolerating bad actions is barely noticeable.

In the beginning, our acceptance of mediocrity can be undetectable.

Falling into the habit of ego protection (or inflation) can be subtle at first.

But what’s clear is our trajectory. And we’re headed down.

We get to choose whether we want to crash or soar.

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Inspiration · Leadership

Famous

Deep down many of us seek fame. Constant attention. Mass adoration. Approval on a grand scale.

We get attached to the notion that our worth can be measured in breadth, not depth. Clicks and likes, over connection and intimacy.

We try vainly to be “friends” with everybody, before we make friends with ourselves.

Our heart may be closed, but our life is an open book on Facebook and Instagram.

We can all do selfies ad nauseam. We can all put our fake fabulous life on display for all to see.

But maybe it’s just a little bit better to be famous to your family. Your AA group. That non-profit that’s changing lives one at a time. Or that kid who could really use a hug right about now.

As usual, the poet says it better than I…

FAMOUS by Naomi Shihab Nye

“The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.”

h/t Anne Lamott

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Being Remarkable · Innovation · Inspiration · Leadership

Stay. Stay. Stay.

The amygdala is sometimes known as the “lizard brain.” It’s more or less a holdover from prehistoric times and its role is to activate our primal survival instincts such as aggression and fear. When we are faced with a perceived threat, it can reflexively kick us into “fight or flight” mode. Sometimes–typically when we get overwhelmed and flooded with stress hormones–we can bounce back and forth from attacker to avoider, from villain to victim. Or we can shut down entirely.

At work, the lizard brain can keep us from trying new stuff despite knowing we need to innovate. It can cause us to push back hard on challengers to the status quo because we fear being wrong or looking stupid. Or we can just get stuck, paralyzed into inaction.

In personal relationships, those of us who fear intimacy can push away those whom we love, despite our desire to be more deeply connected. Or we can bolt for the door just as we get closer to what we so strongly desire.

The Resistance is real. So is self-sabotage. But as Pema Chodron reminds us, “fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”

Clearly some situations are untenable and they deserve to be run from and put well behind us. Frankly, quitting is often under-rated.

Other circumstances require us to stand up and fight and say “enough is enough.” No one should endure tantrums or constant boundary violations or harassment or far worse.

Discerning the situations where we need to get in and rumble and get messy and walk through our fear is not easy. It takes real courage to remain in the arena when everything tells us to to flee. To engage when the fear comes up. To do the hard, uncomfortable work. To be neither victim, nor persecutor, nor rescuer, but an accountable adult, fully present, living in reality and owning our truth.

Our restlessness is part of the human condition. And the lizard brain can be easily activated–even more so if we have a history of trauma.

But like a dog being trained, we can learn to stay. Stay engaged. Stay focused. Stay patient. Stay accountable.

We can do the work.

The challenges are great, but so too can be the reward.

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Being Remarkable · Inspiration · Leadership

The way we vote

A lot of people will be going to the polls today.  But most won’t–and not because they aren’t holding elections in their community.

Voter turnout is ridiculously low in many parts of the country, particularly in local elections. And that means those that actually show up have disproportionate influence.

Of course we get to vote on lots of things each and every day by deciding what we give our time and attention to. And it’s easy to vote “no”.

It’s comfortable to play it safe. To hope someone else will do it. To stay in thought, rather than action. To ruminate on what could have been, or fantasize about what might be someday. To admire others good work from a distance. To be the critic, rather than the person in the arena. To tell ourselves that we will be ready to commit when various forces align that will make for the perfect moment to start. But we’re never ready.

The way we vote matters. And it turns out that in just about everything we are confronted with those that show up have disproportionate influence.

Inspiration · Leadership

Does this path have a heart?

“Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.  – Carlos Castenada, “The Teachings of Don Juan”

The focus of our career. Who we vote for. What we say when challenged. Where we spend our free time. The people we decide to hang out with. The organizations and causes we support. The comments we make on social media. How we show up in relationships. Just about anything we opt to give our time and attention.

These are all choices and each imply directionality and our fundamental orientation to the world.

And so…

We can operate from self-righteousness or curiosity. We can employ a mindset of scarcity or one rooted in generosity. We can choose judgment or grace, condemnation or forgiveness, distraction or connection, cruelty or compassion. We can chase busyness or meaning. And so on.

It’s not easy. And I fail at it all the time. Sometimes miserably. And yet…

And yet…it’s always worth knowing which way I want my compass to point. It helps to challenge that which I worship. It matters that when I get to the fork in the road, I know which path I want to choose, even if I get it wrong more times than I’d like to own up to.

Sure the bigger house is nice. The bigger heart maybe just a wee bit better.

Inspiration · Leadership

A hypothesis of generosity

None of us suffer from a deficit of experience. In fact, “stuff’ happens virtually non-stop.

The daily rhythm of life is that we have ups and downs. Problems manifest, big and small. Complications arise, both profound and mundane. We encounter joys, concerns and everywhere in between. Items get checked off our to-do list. Or not.

Amidst the backdrop of our existence come the many challenges to our equanimity. Often these arise as times when we feel confronted, slighted, or disrespected, Other times we may feel shunned or even attacked.

Maybe we get get cut off in traffic or treated rudely by a stranger. A friend doesn’t call us back. A co-worker doesn’t include us in an important meeting. Perhaps we don’t feel truly heard by our partner. Maybe we even sense that we are being judged or harshly criticized by someone who loves us.

If you are anything like me, you might find yourself drawn to apply a strong filter of negativity, propelled by self-righteousness, defensiveness and anger. If you are anything like me, you might start to make up quite a lot about what’s actually going on and what it all means.

So what if instead we started with a hypothesis of generosity? What if our filter was set to kindness and curiosity instead of assuming the worst possible interpretation? What if we followed Brene Brown‘s advice in her book Rising Strong and we asked ourselves “what is the most generous assumption about this person’s intentions or what this person said?”

In choosing this path we have to challenge our ego. We have to let go of the need to be right. We have to stop getting our needs met through propping ourselves up by putting others down. We have to move toward connection, rather than run from it. It’s not always easy. And it means telling ourselves a fundamentally different story.

But as Brene goes on to remind us:  “What do we call a story that’s based on limited real data and imagined data and blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality? A conspiracy theory.”

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